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What helps some businesses thrive? Lessons from lockdown

Since launching My Virtual Neighbourhood, we’ve listed over 3,000 businesses – and we’ve learnt a lot along the way.

Our site is run by a former government economist and a journalist. We’ve been working to promote small businesses for years and are fascinated by what makes some succeed where others struggle.

So here, for what it’s worth, are eight things we’ve learnt since launching our lockdown site!

1. Adapt – get online!

Lockdown has changed the way small businesses must present themselves.

It isn’t enough to rely on physical footfall through your business doors anymore (though of course that still matters). The businesses riding out the storm are those with easy to navigate websites and good social media. They’re the ones which deliver or offer click and collect.

2. You get more flies with honey

It’s human nature! The nicer you are to people, the more they’ll want to help and support you.

Be polite – to everyone! However frustrating a customer or contact is, always keep your cool. One moment of rudeness is enough to lose a customer for life and probably many more - word gets around. Be positive, make people smile and they’ll want to come back!

3. Be part of the community

The businesses which seem to be doing the best through lockdown are the ones which have historically gone the extra mile for their communities. The loyalty they’ve earned means customers make a concerted effort to support them.

Even now, when times are harder than ever, a small number of amazing businesses are pulling out the stops to help others (businesses like the Duke of Richmond in Hackney who have offered free meals for people in poverty). We have a hunch that will stand them in good stead for the future.

4. Communicate clearly and make sure your website and social media accounts are up to date

People want to support small businesses but if they go to your website or social media pages and can’t tell if you’re open or delivering, they’ll look elsewhere. We’ve been really surprised by how few businesses communicate whether they’re open and how they’re continuing to serve. Perhaps they’re keeping existing customers in the loop via email, but they’re missing out on a wealth of potential new customers.

5. Switch on Google Analytics

You need to know how many people are visiting your website, where they’re coming from and how they behave. This data enables you to tailor your marketing and reach a wider pool of potential customers. Google Analytics is a brilliant way of seeing what draws people in and converts them into customers. And it’s free. A useful source of information on all things marketing are these free videos by Neil Patel:

6. Tell your story well and keep it brief

People buy people, not just products. What’s your story in a nutshell? Why did you launch your business, what are you passionate about, what were the struggles that brought you to where you are? Tell it on your website and social media and include pictures and videos of you and your team. If I’m buying something from an independent, it’s lovely to feel like I know them!

7. Make things easy for people

There’s nothing more irritating than a website that bombards you with pop-up boxes trying to get your data – worse still are those that automatically play music or a video. Keep your website simple and make the path to buying as easy as possible. Try to avoid making people set up an account before completing a purchase too.

8. Reward loyalty

Entice customers with discounts or perks. Everyone likes to feel they’re getting a good deal or a freebie and that they are special. Clubs like The Local Buyers Club can be a great way of securing local and loyal customers.

My Virtual Neighbourhood launched in March 2020 during the first lockdown – since then it’s had hundreds of thousands of hits, has been praised by the likes of Jay Rayner and has become the shop-local platform for Wandsworth, Hackney and Camden councils, with more joining soon. It has become the main source of online referrals for many small businesses in London and listings are free, with an option for a premium listing to gain more exposure.

Find out which independent businesses near you are open or delivering to your community: Click HERE to find your virtual neighbourhood

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